Madrid fire causes chaos for half a million commuters

14th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

14 February 2005, MADRID-The aftermath of a huge weekend fire which destroyed a landmark building in central Madrid caused traffic chaos with some 600,000 commuters affected.

14 February 2005

MADRID-The aftermath of a huge weekend fire which destroyed a landmark building in central Madrid caused traffic chaos with some 600,000 commuters affected.

The biggest fire in Madrid's history, which broke out Saturday night at the Windsor building on the Castellana Avenua main thoroughfare, forced metro and regional railway lines passing through the vicinity to be temporarily closed down and a shopping centre adjoining was to remain closed until Thursday.

The remaining smouldering skeleton of the 106-metre (330 feet) tall
skyscraper will be pulled down, fire brigade and Madrid local government
officials said.

Madrid authorities had warned there was a "high risk" a 31-storey office building would collapse.

The fire was put out shortly after 8 pm (1900 GMT) on Sunday, more than 20 hours after it began, firefighting services director Medardo Tudela said.

But he warned the building's shell could be unstable and might collapse.

"We remain worried about the building's structural state owing to the high temperatures to which it has been subjected," he said, adding the next 48 hours would be crucial in determining whether the structure would fall.

The fire broke out around 11 pm on Saturday when the building was empty, limiting the injured toll to seven firefighters suffering from smoke inhalation.

Rescue services evacuated dozens of families living nearby as chunks of debris fell constantly from upper floors.

The blaze swiftly engulfed the 106-metre (330 feet) Windsor building after apparently being sparked by a short circuit on the 21st floor, firefighters said.

Throughout the night clouds of thick black shrouded the building on the Castellana Avenue, a key Madrid thoroughfare.

Madrid mayor Alberto Ruiz Gallardon told reporters that "we are looking at the biggest fire in Madrid's history.

"It is not the worst, as, fortunately, there are no deaths or serious
injuries," he added.

It was thought the fire started because of "fault in the security system," saying automatic water sprinklers should have activated when the fire started.

One of the building's architects, Genaro Alas, said it was not known why a fire alarm system didn't work, causing allowing the blaze to spread considerably before firefighters arrived.

Insurers valued the Windsor building at EUR 84.2 million at 2003 prices.

Some residents were fearful that the city, scene of a series of devastating train bombings which killed 191 people last March, might have been attacked again.

"It immediately reminded me of the attack on the twin towers" in New York in September 2001, one onlooker said.

The fire brought severe disruption to early morning public transport in the city, with three metro lines suspending services in the area affected while roads in the vicinity were cordoned off for several hours.

The Windsor building had been undergoing renovation since mid-2003, which was largely completed last November, although a crane still stood over the building.

US financial services company Deloitte, the biggest auditing firm in the country, said its offices in the building had been destroyed.

The firm occupies 20 of the 25 levels used by companies in the skyscraper.

The Spanish capital has seen several other major fires in recent years.

In the worst incident, in December 1983, more than 80 people died in a blaze at a discotheque.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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